Learning from Canada

Opinion

I lived in Manitoba, Canada, for 10 years and traveled extensively across Canada. In Montreal I was taken by a group of trade unionists to a monument erected to the memory of Dr. Norman Bethune, a member of the Communist Party of Canada who is widely regarded as having given the initial direction and leadership that eventually led to the establishment of Canada’s present excellent health care system.

After Bethune’s death the struggle for a national heath care system in Canada was carried on by Tim Buck, leader of the Communist Party of Canada, and Tommy Douglas, leader of the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP). The Canadian government honored Bethune’s memory with a postage stamp. Canadian actor Donald Sutherland starred in “Bethune,” a movie about his life – I encourage everyone to see it.

To try to prove that Canada’s national health care system is a failure, our big-business media constantly point out that the system sometimes becomes “overburdened.” However, what is never stated is that Canadians don’t hesitate to go to the doctor. In Canada you can go to the doctor for free! Canadians go for every little ache and pain – in the interest of preventive medicine. It makes more sense to treat something in its initial stage than to let it get out of control, possibly becoming life-threatening or much more costly to treat.

Another factor related to the “overburdening” is that American recruiters are constantly traversing Canada trying to entice doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals to come to the United States where, they are told, they can make a lot more money. While the problem is not yet a “hemorrhaging” that threatens the existence of the Canadian health care system, it does present a very big problem, especially in the two NDP-controlled provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where higher education is heavily subsidized by the socialist-oriented provincial governments.

They attempt to provide the most affordable, accessible, highest quality health care by making higher education affordable to all youth. So, these provinces pay to train doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals, and after these people have been working in their fields gaining valuable hands-on experience – along comes an American corporate recruiter holding out the lure of higher pay to come work in the United States, offering big cash bonuses and perks as the clincher to the deal.

The Canadian government also provides very unique “supplemental coverages” (also free) for all those living in Canada. For instance, every new mother gets one year off of work while receiving half her pay, to care for and bond with her new baby. She can take a second year off with no pay. In either case, the employer is required by law to provide her with her job, or a comparable job, when she returns to work. The Canadian government also provides cash stipends to families for children.

The socialist-oriented provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba are world leaders in the area of assisting workers injured on the job with physical therapy and job retraining programs, again at no cost.

Yes, there remains a problem with paying health care professionals the best wages. But, if you travel across Canada, you can quickly see why Canada doesn’t have adequate resources to accomplish all that it wants to in health care and other social programs. Everywhere you look, American, British, French, and Japanese corporations are stealing Canada’s wealth – from nickel in Sudbury, Ontario, and Thompson, Manitoba, to logs in Grassy Narrows, Ontario, and Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Canada has a national health care system because the Canadian people fought for it. It was not a “gift” from the government. One reason Canada still has the resources for health care is that the Canadian people have struggled hard – not only to defend their health care system, but also for a policy that emphasizes peaceful solutions to world problems. Canada’s prime minister, very reluctantly and under great pressure from a united peace movement, including the Canadian Labour Congress, refused to participate in Bush’s dirty war in Iraq. George Bush made the decision to spend billions of dollars on war, death, and destruction in Iraq, rather than on establishing a national health care system.

Canadian and American workers both have much to gain if we join hands across the border in the struggles for peace and social justice against corporate greed.



Alan Maki is a reader in Warroad, Minn. He can be reached at alanmaki@wiktel.com.